A new article was recently written exploring the influence of Rene Guenon on Steve Bannon. This article actually does give a fairly good short summary of the ideas of the late great Rene Guenon, despite misrepresenting Julius Evola.
I haven’t really paid much attention to Guenon or Evola since coming to graduate school. Yet I cannot deny that Rene Guenon probably played the most important transformative role in my intellectual career, and ultimately in my life’s choices. My very first facebook photo I ever had, when I started facebook in 2008, was a picture of Evola. When I was an undergraduate freshman, I introduced myself as “I’m Alexander Shepard, and I am in love with Rene Guenon.” A professor sitting right to me gave me a strange look and said. “I’m not going to say who i’m in love with.” I then had to explain that Guenon was my favorite philosopher who had been dead for over half a century. For probably about 90% of my papers, as my former philosophy professor Tabor Fisher will remember, I wrote advancing Guenon’s perspectives. Especially in one class where I contrasted Guenon with Spinoza, Hume, and Neitzche, which I later consolidated into an article entitled “Guenon Against the World: The difference between Primordial and ‘Enlightened’ metaphysics.”
However, for a multitude of reasons, I ended up burning out of Guenon and Evola. Partially it was due to greater exposure of various Mystics whom the Traditionalists themselves relied on, such as Eckhart, Ibn Arabi, Al-Ghazali, and finally the great Suhrawardi. More importantly it was the realization that even though the theories work well in certain areas: mainly theology, mysticism, art, literature etc., and, to a certain extent, their social criticisms of certain functions in modernity are interesting at least, it suffers from the same flaw — as the great Mircea Eliade pointed out — as Freudianism, Marxism, and other all-encompassing procrustean unfalsifiable hypothesis suffer from. Literally everything in the world can be twisted in some way shape or form, be twisted to fit their theories of social degradation following civilizations loss of their access to the sacred. Their universal rejection of biological evolution and insistence that all of history is a decline and a regress in all circumstances is hard to follow considering significant areas of certain social, moral, scientific, or technological progress, and the undeniable scientific reality of biological evolution. Their theories of a universality of all religious traditions are interesting in some respects, and certainly the commonality of a universal mystical experience cannot be denied, especially the universality of the concept of Theosis/Fana/Mokhsha or the mystical path in general.
However, they conveniently gloss over irreconcilable differences across the worlds traditions, going to great lengths to explain away key differences in doctrine, such as the Trinity, an irreconcilable difference between mainstream Christianity and Islam. Or the doctrine of reincarnation, an irreconcilable difference between eastern and western religions. Or the Caste System, which Guenon rigorously defended as a universal institution, and saw the West’s decline as personified in Caste regression. He identified the Protestant reformation as the Kshatriyas revolting and Brahmin authority, the French and American revolutions as revolts of the Vaishya against Kshatriya authority, and the communist revolutions as revolutions of the Sudras against the Vaishya. However for a number of reasons this analysis is patently absurd. The so-called “Sudra revolutions” occurred in civilizations which Guenon would have deemed closer to Traditionalist civilizations, i.e., Russia and China, and had not past through periods of social or technological modernization. France was still a firmly Catholic country with the Church reigning supreme. England at the time of the revolution had a parliamentary system, as the monarchy had largely become ceremonial after the glorious revolution.
However, having said that, it’s important to note, as I have said multiple times before, that if Guenon was alive today, he would have nothing but contempt for Bannon. If Evola would slap Bannon into next week, Guenon would blast him into eternity. This article already does a satisfactory job explaining their differences. However, I do need to add something important. Guenon in his early career believed it to be possible to bring about a “restoration” in the West. However, after he settled in Egypt, until he died in 1951, he rejected the possibility of resurrecting any “traditional” civilization, and openly denounced fascism on more than one occasion. He also adamantly rejected nationalism, civil or racial, in all of its forms, and specifically likened it, together with Capitalism, Communism, Freudianism, Theosophy, Spiritism, Religious fundamentalism, and environmental destruction as symptoms of modern decadence.
On the subject of environmental destruction, Trump’s denial of the science of global warming, his support for the Keystone pipeline, and all of his other fronts in the war on life itself are at the polar opposite of what Guenon and Evola advocated, as they both saw respecting the environment as an important feature of traditional civilization. Seyyed Hossein Nasr, professor at George Washington University has written on this subject in detail and his lectures are available for public view on Youtube.
In regards to Evola, I have stated before and will state again, that Evola would not support Trump or Bannon, in any way shape or form. For Trump represents the very decadence that Evola disdained, A manifestation of Capitalism and Populism, specifically the two things Guenon and Evola disdained most about American culture. Evola, contrary to Bannon, was also an ardent Islamophile, writing extensively in his magnum opus Revolt against the Modern World:
Islam, which originated among the Semitic races also consisted of the Law and Tradition, regarded as a formative force, to which the Arab stocks of the origins provided a purer and nobler human material that was shaped by a warrior spirit. The Islamic law (shariah) is a divine law; its foundation, the Koran, is thought of as God’s very own word (kalam Allah) as well as a nonhuman work and an “uncreated book” that exists in heaven ab eterno. Although Islam considers itself the “religion of Abraham” it is nevertheless true that (a) it claimed independence from both Judaism and Christianity; (b) the Kaaba, with its symbolism of the center, is a pre-Islamic location and has even older origins that cannot be dated accurately; (c) in the esoteric Islam tradition, the main reference point is al-Khadir, a popular figure conceived as superior to an predating the biblical prophets (Koran 18:59-81). In early Islam the only form of asceticism was action, that is, jihad, or “holy war”; this type of war, at least theoretically, should never be interrupted until the full consolidation of the divine Law has been achieved. Finally, Islam presents a traditional completeness, since the shariah and the sunna, that is, the exoteric law and tradition, have their complement not in vague mysticism, but in full-fledged initiatory organizations (turuq) that are categorized by an esoteric teaching (tawil) and by the metaphysical doctrine of the Supreme Identity (tawhid). In these organizations, and in general in the shia, the recurrent notions of the masum, of the double prerogative of the isma (doctrinal infallibility), and of the impossibility of being stained by any sin (which is the prerogative of the leaders, the visible and invisible Imams and the mujtahid), lead back to the line of an unbroken race shaped by a tradition at a higher level than both Judaism and the religious beliefs that conquered the West.
However, more specifically, what Evola despised most about Americanism is the notion of a “Self-made man” Which Evola found to be the opposite of true traditional civilization. I think anyone can infer what Evola would say to Trump, given his following paragraph on American decadence.
…in a society which has lost all sense of tradition the notion of personal aggrandizement will extend into every aspect of human existence, reinforcing the egalitarian doctrine of pure democracy. If the basis of such ideas is accepted, then all natural diversity has to be abandoned. Each person can presume to possess the potential of everyone else and the terms ‘superior’ and ‘inferior’ lose their meaning; every notion of distance and respect loses meaning; all life-styles are open to all. To all organic conceptions of life Americans oppose a mechanistic conception. In a society which has ‘started from scratch’, everything has the characteristic of being fabricated. In American society appearances are masks not faces. At the same time, proponents of the American way of life are hostile to personality.
Trump represents the very “self-made man” that Evola blasts in his paragraph. No, Evola and Guenon were not right about everything. However, there is still a lot of timeless wisdom in their works, especially for those interested in philosophy, theology, and the history of religions. If for nothing else for the sake of intellectual honesty, Bannon and Trump should not be seen as their byproduct.